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Black Sands by Violet Gryfindor
Chapter 1: Prologue
Author's Note: This story has been inspired by a long-lived love of action/adventure movies from Indiana Jones to "The Mummy", as well as my favourite historical mysteries. I've tried to inject as much history as possible, but if you see any errors, please let me know.
The night sky blanketed the world, the only light coming from the tiny pinpricks of light shining from distant stars. She stood before the tomb, eyes not on its gaping entrance, but on those distant specks of light. There was the Great Hunter to the north, his loyal dog following him through his celestial journey. She tapped her foot on the sand, preferring to mourn her late husband behind the walls of their palace. Although she would never speak against the gods, it was unfair that they had seen fit to take her husband’s life without warning.
Nineteen was too young an age to begin the journey to the afterlife, especially when that journey had to be taken alone.
A bitter sigh escaped, Ankhesenamun, wife of the Great Pharaoh, as she watched the empty shell of her husband enter the hastily-carved stone tomb. Because of his age at death, there had not yet been a tomb made for Tutankhamun. Instead, he was to be placed within the tomb of a lesser noble, not the grand palace of death granted to a pharaoh. Even the treasures for the afterlife were not of the highest quality, nor were there enough to satisfy his needs in the next world.
The light from the flaming torches cast an eerie glow upon the inner sarcophagus, making the gold and jewels glitter as though magicked. The priests sung the incantations, the magic flowing from their rods of office and surrounding the door of the tomb. Once the body and conopic jars were placed within, the final incantation would be given and the tomb sealed. Forever.
The bodies of their three daughters, none of whom had breathed the air of life, would also be placed within the tomb to spend eternity with their father. He had been the kindest and gentlest of Ankhesenamun’s husbands, respecting her as though she were an equal, not a stupid child, or worse, a vessel for the king's pleasure. Together, they had brought back the Old Ways, restoring the gods to their proper positions and bringing peace and constancy to a slowly cracking society. They had done everything together, as a king and queen should.
Now, only her failure remained. Failure to protect her husband, failure to produce an heir. She would be married off to the highest bidder, a mere commodity, no longer a queen, but a slave of men. Although she had written in secret to the Hittites, begging for a husband - an act of sheer desperation - she had heard no reply. Even Egypt's enemies had failed her.
“My lady,” said a voice at her side. “Why do you not weep for your husband?”
She hid her grimace beneath a face of stone. Ay, the grand vizier. Perhaps the one to have brought Death to the pharaoh. He would use her to make the final step toward supreme power, and there would be nothing she could do. It would be in her best interest to marry him, to remain in the palace as a queen, to keep life in her body even as her soul longed for the Other World. Never again could she be whole; a piece of her soul would always be lost in the darkness of Seth’s realm.
“I do not cry because my eyes have no tears left." The words emerged sharper than she intended. “These last many days have dried my eyes like a desert wind.”
“Do you regret his death then, my lady?” He was persistent, as though her apparent lack of grief warmed his iron heart.
“Of course I do!” She turned away, tears dripping down her copper cheeks and falling into the sand below. “Leave me in peace to mourn my husband.”
Ay smiled, his dark eyes shining. Her sorrow only gave him joy. “Then you will forgive me, my lady. I must cast the final spell. No tomb robber will dare to desecrate the Pharaoh’s tomb with such a protection as mine." With a mocking bow, he left Ankhesenamun, who was quickly surrounded with handmaidens busy drying her tears.
Although she did not dare watch Ay perform the spell of protection, she could hear his grating voice reciting the ancient words of power. It had rarely been used in the past centuries - too many feared it - but Ay’s pride would not stop him from using it on the tomb of the young pharaoh.
He stood at the top of the tomb steps, rod held high above his head. As he recited the incantation, magic surrounded the tomb door. A black shape appeared in the air above the mourners, the demon's flashing red eyes sending them fleeing into the shadows. It swirled around the tomb and Ankhesenamun could have sworn that she heard it screaming, crying out against its new prison, the curse that would seal it within the tomb for all eternity.
And in a flash of white light, the spell was completed. The stone door slammed shut, a cloud of sand in its wake.
If the tomb was ever opened by any but the preists, the demon called from the realms of Seth himself, would have to destroy all who desecrated the tomb of the great pharaoh, sending them into the depths of darkness with no hope of an afterlife. There would be plague and suffering in its path should it be set free, but Ay knew this.
Ankhesenamun shivered at the thought of death without afterlife, without solace. As a handmaiden wrapped a shawl around her queen's thin shoulders, the young queen looked once more at the stars, hoping that her own death would not be long in the future. She would find him again and they would bask in the warmth of heaven. Only then would she remember what it meant to live.
As the handmaidens lead her away, a strange sensation plucked at her nerves like the musician plucks at his strings. With a backward glance, she saw Ay perched on the edge of the cliff, head still thrown back so that he could face the heavens, glorying over the power that soared through his veins. As the spell faded, it cast his face in an eerie light and he seemed to fade into shadow.
For all that it was a creature of Seth, the demon was a being to pity. The true demon was the man who had allowed magic to consume his soul. Magic, yes. That was the gift of the Evil One.
The mourners footsteps were lost amidst the shifting sands even as their cries still echoed through the cliffs. But there was no one to hear the demon's screams.